Rare and ecologically important sand dunes at Donald Trump’s flagship Scottish golf resort in Aberdeenshire could be stripped of their protected status due to “damage and loss”, according to experts.
Prior to development, the sands shifted northwards by up to 11 metres each year over an area of around 15 hectares.
Now Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which has been monitoring the environmental impact of the 18-hole course, says it has caused loss of habitat and harm to the dunes.
The nature agency regularly checks SSSIs for the important features they were listed for.
The scale of the impact is currently being assessed before as decision is made whether all or parts of the site should lose their special designation.
“We’re currently reviewing the SSSI boundary of Foveran Links and hope to complete this by the end of December,” a spokesman for SNH said.
“As expected, there are areas where there has been some permanent habitat loss - for example, where tracks, tees, fairways and greens have been constructed.
“There have been other habitat changes where, for example, mobile sand dunes have been stabilised through the planting of marram grass.
“Part of our review will be to assess the significance and scale of this loss and damage.”
Conservationists have said it seems likely Foveran Links will be downgraded.
Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust was strongly opposed to the Trump development. Our main objection was that there would be severe and irreversible damage to around 40 per cent of the Foveran Links SSSI, one of the best sand dune systems of its type in north-western Europe.
“Therefore, it would be unsurprising if the SSSI status is removed.”
Speaking in a BBC documentary to be aired tonight, Dr Jim Hansom, a landform expert at Glasgow University, says he will be “absolutely surprised” if the site keeps its status.
He said: “It really should be de-notified because there’s no dynamism involved in that site now and that was the original justification for its notification. It has been ruined from a virgin undeveloped wilderness site into something that’s relatively manicured.”
Sarah Malone, executive vice-president of Trump International Golf Links Scotland, said the status of the SSSI is “for the authorities to decide”.
She added: “The fact of the matter is, contrary to what is propagated by a very small group of people, our environmental approach was first class.”